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Guardian Home Program For Dogs: What You NEED To Know

Cartoon dog house with text above reading "Guardian Homes 101"

A Guardian Home for dogs is a program set up by breeders to allow families to raise and care for their breeding dogs offsite.

This type of program has become attractive for both breeders and families. There are plenty of good reasons to become a Guardian Family, but you should be aware of a few things before signing the contract.

In this article, I will explore the nuts and bolts of the Guardian Home Program.

What is a Guardian Home?

Small dog sitting on a welcome mat that says "home"

A Guardian Home is a method used by dog breeders where their breeding dogs are fostered or adopted by a family. The dog lives with the family, or Guardian Family, when it is not used for breeding. The Guardian Family provides a loving and caring environment that replicates the everyday life of a standard family dog.

This video from Van Isle Doodles does a pretty good job at explaining the basics of a Guardian Home Program.

Being a Van Isle Labradoodle Guardian Home

Why do breeders use Guardian Homes?

Breeders will implement a Guardian Home Program for two very different reasons.

For good…

The best reason is that the breeder understands they cannot provide the dog with the most caring, healthiest lifestyle. This can be due to the breeder already having multiple dogs in their care. Or, it could be that the breeder does not have the time to care for all their breeding dogs year-round.

No matter the breeder’s reasoning, the breeder has the best intention for their dogs and wants them to live in a loving family environment.

Woman smiling and petting her Golden Retriever

For bad…

The worst reason a breeder would use the Guardian Home Program is that they are attempting to operate a large-scale breeding effort. They are delegating the responsibilities (and costs) of caring for their breeding dogs. This allows them to scale their efforts quite easily.

The more Guardian Families means, the more dogs the breeder can use to breed litters. This allows them to be breeding and selling dogs constantly. This goes on while the breeder takes virtually no responsibility for the dogs except when they are actively breeding, whelping, or weaning puppies.

How does a Guardian Home Program work?

Guardian Home Programs differ by the breeder. However, a few features are generally the same across each program.

The breeder first chooses a Guardian Family for their dog. It can be a female (dam) or a male (sire). Often, it is a puppy that will go to a Guardian Home. This ensures the puppy grows up with its new family from the beginning.

The puppy will live an everyday puppy life with its new family. The Guardian Family will take care of all the needs of the puppy. This includes health checks, proper training, socialization, grooming, etc.

Once the dog is at the appropriate age, the breeder will want to start breeding. The age depends on the gender of the dog.

If the puppy is a female, it is recommended that it not start breeding before two years of age [1] Although, many breeders will begin breeding before that age. Males can start breeding at 12-15 months of age [2]

At this point, the dog will typically go back to the breeder for mating. The breeder will keep the dog for a few days or even a week or two. Then, the dog is returned to its everyday life with its Guardian Family.

Father and daughter sitting outside with their dog

Male Guardian dogs won’t need to return to the breeder until the breeder decides to have another litter.

If it is a female dog, it will return to the Guardian Home for the duration of its pregnancy. Pregnancy in dogs typically lasts 63 days or about three months. The specific timeline for the dog’s return to the breeder is specific to the breeder and its program.

The dam will spend time raising, whelping, and weaning her puppies at the breeder’s location. Usually, breeders will allow the Guardian Family to visit their dog after giving birth to their litter. Some breeders will not allow families to visit due to the risk of infection or disease transmission to the pups.

Once the puppies are older and properly weaned, the litter’s mother will return home to her Guardian Family. This process will repeat itself before the dog is retired from breeding.

As I mentioned, each breeder will have a slightly different process for their Guardian Home Program. If you are interested in becoming a Guardian Family, you will need to seek specific details from the breeder.

How are Guardian Families chosen?

Unless you are close friends or family to a dog breeder, you will need to apply to become a Guardian Family. Every breeder has a unique set of traits or characteristics that they are seeking in a Guardian Family. However, based on my research, I have found that breeders often ask similar questions in their Guardian Home applications.

Dog house with text that reads "is a Guardian Home Program right for your"

Dog Guardian Home Application

Below are a few questions and qualifications that are typically found in an application to make sure you are a good fit for the breeder:

Are you located in the area?

Breeders prefer local families. It wouldn’t do anyone any good if you lived in Ohio, but the breeder is in Utah. The breeder wants to check up on their dog from time to time. Plus, they will need the dog for breeding. Things are more complicated for both parties if you aren’t a few minutes drive away.

Do you have enough free time/availability to be a Guardian Family?

It takes time to raise a dog, especially a puppy. The breeder wants to ensure that you can devote enough time to proper socialization, training, and exercise.

Do you travel frequently?

If you are out of town often for business or pleasure, the dog will be either left at home or in the kennel. Or, if you plan on bringing your pup, it is tough to schedule visits and mating if the dog isn’t around.

Do you have experience raising dogs?

The last thing a breeder wants to do is hand off their prized stud to someone who has no experience raising dogs. Plus, a Guardian Family relationship can be challenging if you’ve never had a dog before. This is especially true if you plan to be a Guardian Home for a female.

Pregnant dogs require a lot of specialized care and frequent health testing before and after their due date. It’s better left to someone with some experience.

A dog's paw on top of human hands

Do you have other pets in the house?

If you already own a friendly dog, being a Guardian Family is an excellent way to add another pup to the mix. If your dog is not friendly, I suggest you skip this program.

Do you have a fenced yard?

I have seen some breeders require a fully fenced yard as part of their application. It’s a legit concern, but I don’t think it’s that necessary. After all, I own a massive Bernedoodle in a one-bedroom apartment. She gets plenty of exercise and affection – yard or no yard; she’s spoiled.

Do you have children?

This is an important one for both you and the breeder. If you are going to be a Guardian Home, you will want to make sure that the puppy is well-socialized towards children.

As a breeder, you want your dogs to socialize well with young children. No one likes a dog that is afraid of children or aggressive towards them.

Does it cost money to be a Guardian Home?

The answer to this question is mainly dependent on the breeder. Some breeders require you to pay a deposit, while others pay you to take care of their pup.

Some breeders will require a deposit because they practically allow you to take one of their puppies. Eventually, the dog will be entirely yours, so you should pay for it, I guess? I’m not sure how I feel about that one.

Dog ownership does cost money. All dogs require a level of care that isn’t free. Grooming, food, toys, vaccinations, etc. It adds up, so be sure you are prepared to take on the financial responsibility of raising a dog.

Are there benefits to being a Guardian Family?

Two young girls hugging their fluffy white dog

Sure! The specific benefits vary from breeder to breeder. First and foremost, you will get the opportunity to experience the wonders and joy of dog ownership.

Additionally, you may receive the puppy for free or at a discount. Some breeders will even pay you per litter that the dog has. Breeders may also give you the pick of the litter.

Can you be a Guardian Family for a stud (males)?

Yes, you can be a Guardian Family for a stud. Depending on the circumstances, it may be preferable to be a home for a male dog. Female dogs require extensive, periodic health checks during their pregnancy.

Female dogs will have to stay with the breeder for a couple of weeks during and after pregnancy. Studs, or male dogs, only have to go to the breeder for a day or two during mating.

Do Guardian Families get to keep the dog?

Yes, in almost all instances that I have seen, the Guardian Family gets to keep the dog. However, before you sign a Guardian Home contract, you must go over all the details with the breeder. Be sure to be familiar with the terms and conditions.

The last thing you would want to do is raise a dog for years to have the breeder decide they want them back…

Are Guardian Homes bad?

Yes and no. The answer to this question truly depends on the conditions. Let’s explore both.

Yes, they are good.

You are providing a breeding dog with an incredible life. Instead of living in a kennel or an environment where they don’t receive adequate attention, they get to live in your home with your family. They will be loved, nurtured, and live a normal life.

You get the reward of companionship and love from your dog, while the breeder is satisfied knowing their dogs are raised in a loving environment. Some breeders may have their hands full and don’t have the time or resources to raise multiple dogs. You get to fill that gap!

No, they are bad.

Guardian Home Programs are harmful if they support a puppy mill operation. These programs allow breeders to outsource the labor of raising their dogs. However, they reap the rewards by breeding the dogs and selling the puppies.

Guardian Home Programs give a breeder the potential to breed endless litters of puppies. If they have tons of different dogs they breed, they can use the program to continuously breed puppies without actually doing the work to take care of their studs and dams.

If you search Guardian Home for dogs on Reddit, you will come across a handful of people that are against Guardian Homes. Here are a few things people had to say:

“This is basically like co-owning a show dog, except you have [zero] rights, have to pay for everything, and get the traumatic experience of someone (who clearly has no idea [what] they are talking about) tell you that your puppy is “unnacceptable” after giving you a crappy contract in the first place . . . Regardless of how “good” any of these programs are, I think it’s a horrible way to go about placing and breeding dogs.

Everyone running one of these programs is an irresponsible breeder imo. This is essentially a masterclass in what is wrong with the “produce for puppies” breeder market. The principle of a good breeder is that you don’t breed a litter unless you are prepared to keep that entire litter and raise/train it YOURSELF . . . I’m tired of new dog owners getting ripped off and traumatized.

Great_Golden_Baby, r/puppy101

Below is an interesting comment that addresses the difference between Guardian Homes and co-ownership programs.

“Guardian homes are pretty much exclusively used by puppy mills who want to trick people into thinking they aren’t puppy mills. Now, there are responsible breeders who co-own dogs with other people, which on the surface looks similar to guardian homes.

Co-ownership is generally done on a much smaller scale than guardian homes. A responsible breeder may co-own ~5 dogs while a breeder who utilizes guardian homes can easily have 20+ dogs in guardian homes

Guardian homes tend to have very rigid contracts, usually specifying things like the number of litters the dog will have. Co-ownership takes more of a “let’s see how things turn out” approach. If the breeder decides the dog is turning out different than they hoped, they won’t breed the dog and just turn over full ownership to the dog’s primary caretaker.”

Kaedylee, r/dogs

Should I be a Guardian Home for a dog?

Dog ownership comes with both its delights and difficulties. Serving as a Guardian Home for a dog differs from traditional dog ownership. Not only are you raising and nurturing your dog, but you will also have to be open to letting the breeder “take over” when they want a new litter.

A happy dog going for a walk with his owner

It’s a unique circumstance to own a dog, and it’s not for everyone. There are pros and cons. Let’s explore a few of them.

Guardian Homes Pros and Cons

Ultimately, the decision to become a Guardian Home is yours alone. But it’s wise to review the pros and cons of being a Guardian Family.


  • You get to experience the joy of raising a dog.
  • The breeding dog gets to live in a loving home and healthy family environment.
  • You will have the pick of the litter puppy (depending on the breeder).
  • You will receive a discount on the Guardian Home puppy or even get them for free (depending on the breeder).
  • You may be compensated per litter or puppy (depending on the breeder).


  • The dog is entirely yours once the contract is fulfilled.
  • You are at the breeder’s beck and call while the dog can breed.
  • You can’t move or leave the local area unless you break the contract.
  • You will give your dog to the breeder for mating, whelping, etc.
  • You could be encouraging shady or puppy mill operators if you’re not careful.

Can you get out of a Guardian dog contract?

This is highly dependent on the breeder. It is also highly dependent on the situation. The best thing you can do is to ensure you know the ins and outs of the contract you’re signing.

The worst-case scenario is that you would have to break the contract and pay the breeder for the total price of the dog. Or, if you are unable to raise the dog, you could give them back to the breeder or another Guardian Family.

The best practice would be to establish a good relationship with your breeder. Keep them updated on your situation, and try to be helpful if you have to get out of the Guardian Home contract.

Final Thoughts

A Guardian Home Program is a unique way to bring a dog into your life. This program isn’t for everyone, but it can be rewarding for both you and the breeder. In this article, I covered a few main points about becoming a Guardian Family:

  • What is a Guardian Home
  • How does a Guardian Program work
  • Guardian Family application
  • Guardian Home pros and cons

Now that you know all about Guardian Homes, is it the right program for you and your family members?

Kevin is a proud Bernedoodle owner and Doodle dog fanatic. Read how a chance encounter with two Bernedoodles spurred a lifelong passion here. If you want to get in contact with Kevin, you can send him a message.